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Airport Tips & Tools

Airports may not be on the list of travelers’ most favorite places to hang out, but for those hours during layovers or unexpected delays, some helpful hints can help make it a more productive—and even enjoyable time.

—SAVE TIME—
Curbside Check-in
Most airports and airlines offer this convenient way to bypass check-in and baggage lines inside the terminal. Many curbside counters have all the same features as the full-service counters indoors—including the ability to print boarding passes, check baggage (and supply payment if needed), plus provide all current flight and gate information.

Staffed by skilled airline personnel, and with the assistance of professional skycaps to handle baggage, this option may be complimentary or cost a small fee. Though keep in mind, skycaps should always be tipped for their service (typically about $2 per bag).

Check-in Kiosks
More and more airlines are using new technology to serve their passengers more efficiently and with less onsite staff. At free-standing kiosks, travelers can print boarding passes, check bags (after review by an airline rep), and have questions answered by airport staff if needed.

TSA Pre-check
This can be a real timesaver, especially during peak times at larger airports, with more than 180 airports and 30 airlines now participating. Keep in mind, you must apply and be approved by the TSA before being eligible.

To apply for TSA Pre-check, apply prior to traveling. The TSA will schedule an in-person interview at an enrollment center near you. If approved, you will get a "known traveler number," which you then use when booking flights. If approved for Pre-check when checking in for your flight, your boarding pass will have a "TSAPre" emblem on it.

Incidentally, a number of travelers are randomly selected for TSA Pre-check on every flight (to help manage security lines), so always check your boarding pass before entering security.

The current fee for this program is $85 for 5 years. And it's important to note that the application review process can take a few weeks up to several months, so advanced planning is warranted.

Clear
This is an up-and-coming technology used at 13 domestic airports and growing. The system uses biometrics (your fingerprint) to speed you through the ID portion of airport screening. After enrollment online, a visit to one of the Clear airport offices, and a $179 per year fee, you are all set. If you combine this with TSA Pre-check, you can really speed through airport security and arrive to your gate quickly.

—WHEN YOU HAVE EXTRA TIME—
Airport Lounge Pass
Major airlines feature comfortable and amenity-filled lounges for their best customers. But did you know you can purchase a day pass for one-time use? Alaska, American, United, and Delta, plus a number of foreign carriers, all will sell you access.

Day pass fees can range between $45-$70 or more, but if you have a long layover, especially internationally, it can really be worth it. Also, check your credit card benefits, as many top-level premium cards offer either free or specially priced access to certain lounges.

Apps to Find Amenities
Gate Guru and FlySmart are two great app options (available for both Apple and Android) to learn what services and amenities are available at your airports. They will show you what shops, bars and restaurants are in each terminal, maps for getting around and finding your gate, even weather and delay information if available.

Free Wi-Fi and Charging Stations
Airport Wi-Fi service is getting better, but it still may be painfully slow during peak times of the day. It’s usually free (and often for a limited period of time), but it’s always unsecure. It’s important to remember to avoid online transactions that require entering usernames and passwords, or credit card information.

Renovated gate areas now also feature large banks of cellphone charging stations, so you can top off the batteries to all your devices before boarding your flight.

Chapels, Walking Tracks, and More
Check out the airport map for special features offered. All airports have interfaith chapels, and most have USO lounges (check for eligibility requirements). Also, airports are trying hard to find new and creative ways to entertain passengers, and they have come up with some very inventive options including exercise areas, massage and salon kiosks, colorful children's play areas, and even spots for live music performances. Some airports use walls and open areas to feature art by local artists or educate travelers about local history. Information booths will usually have information and details. Each airport is different, so think of it as a scavenger hunt if you have spare time!

—WHEN YOU LAND—
Cell Phone Lots
If you are looking for a fast pick-up after arriving, try a Cell Phone Lot—where your friend or family member can hang out for free to wait for your call or text that you’ve landed and when you're ready to be picked up in the arrivals area.

If your flight arrives later in the day or in the evening, have your ride meet you upstairs at the departures drop-off. It’s often times less crowded, as most passengers for that day's flights have already been dropped off.

Plan ahead and make your next trip to the airport a less-stressful, and perhaps even, a fun one.